A “Rare Bird” for Bird Watchers
For those of us who remember what a Navion aircraft actually looks like, a Twin Navion sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? Most folks never knew there was such a thing as another engine stuck on the iconic airplane made famous by Arthur Godfrey.
The Navion is a single engine, four-seater airplane which was originally designed and built in the 1940s by North American Aviation. It was, later taken over and built by Ryan Aeronautical Company and the Tubular Steel Corporation.
Envisioned as an aircraft that would perfectly match for the expected postwar boom in civilian aviation, since the Navion, was designed by the same company which produced the North American P-51 Mustang, and along the same general lines, and also regarded as one of the best fighter aircraft manufacturer it was a good fit.
The Navion was designed for the civilian market but also attracted the interest of the U.S. Army Air Forces. The Army Air Force ordered 83 of the NA-154 version, designated the L-17A, to be used as a liaison aircraft, personnel, cargo, and training for the university flight training program, 35 of which were later converted to L-17C and fitting them with an auxiliary fuel tank.
Ryan Aeronautical acquired the design in 1948, and built approximately 1,200 planes over 3 year period. Ryan designated the aircraft the Navion A with a 205 hp Continental E-185-3 or -9 and, later, the Navion B with 260 hp engine of either the Lycoming GO-435-C2, or the optional Continental IO-470 engine.
TUSCO took over production of the Navion in the mid-1950s, with a variety of enhancements including tip tanks and flush rivets. Navion Rangemaster aircraft were manufactured 1976. Their production followed that of earlier canopy-model Navion aircraft.
TUSCO also introduced the Navion Rangemaster G model in 1960, which incorporated all previous advancements, replaced the Navion’s sliding canopy with a side door, enlarged the cabin, created five separate seats, and standardized use of tiptanks and larger, late-model Continental engines. An H Model was produced as well, very nearly the same as the G Model except for a few minor enhancements. The last few Navions were manufactured (all H Models) by Navion Aircraft Company during a short production run ending in 1976 during one of several attempts to restore the airplane to commercial viability.
Pre-World War II, light civilian aircraft such as the Piper J-3 Cub and Aeronca Champion typically were made of wood or steel-tube fuselages with wooden wings. These pre-war designs were also marketed after the war, but did not sell well. While Republic offered an amphibious aircraft like the Seabee. Then there was Cessna’s offer to the market of the model C-195, let us not forget the long lasting and successful Beechcraft Bonanza which remains in production in 2009. All of these aircraft, including the Navion were significantly more advanced than prewar civilian aircraft and they set the stage for aircraft built from aluminum sheets riveted to aluminum formers. It was thought that wartime pilots would come home and continue flying with their families and friends under more peaceful conditions, but the postwar boom in civilian aviation did not materialize to the extent the manufacturers figured it would.
The marketing and sales of the Navion were helped immensely by the high visibility of several celebrities who flew them. These celebrities included Arthur Godfrey, the most famous radio & television broadcaster, movie stars Veronica Lake and Mickey Rooney and TV Game host Bill Cullen. Retired Utah Senator Jake Garn were all Navion pilots and owners.
But they were all single engine Navions, you may be saying to yourself, right? How about the Twins?
The Temco D-16 is a 1950s twin engine conversion of a Ryan Navion to replace its single engine with two wing-mounted engines. It is commonly known as the Twin Navion, although that name is also often applied to a later similar conversion, the Camair 480.
The project began in 1951 as a requirement by Charles Daubenberger for an inexpensive replacement for the corporate Ryan Navion operated by his Dauby Equipment Company, to achieve better reliability while crossing high mountain ranges. He commissioned Roger Keeney of the Acme Aircraft Company to provide a solution, that evolved into a twin engine conversion of a Navion.
Jack Riley Sr. built the first model with a team of four. With encouragement from Lycoming, the 125hp Lycoming O-290 four-cylinder engine was selected for the project. Design changes from the basic Navion structure included strengthened wing spars, that supported engine mounts and other components from Piper PA-18 Super Cub, plus new engine nacelles, a faired nose section that replaced the existing engine and cowling, and a new vertical tail and rudder based on the existing horizontal stabilizer. During testing in 1952, the aircraft was initially named the X-16 Bi-Navion. On 10 November 1952, it was granted certification by the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), after which it was renamed as the D-16 Twin Navion.
A second aircraft was converted for Jack Riley, who specified 140hp engines, and he purchased the production rights from Dauby. Riley Aircraft then started production of the Riley D-16 Twin Navion, that standardized the design with 150hp Lycoming O-320 engines and other improvements. In March 1953, after 19 conversions had been carried out, Riley subcontracted production to Temco Aircraft. Temco then purchased the sole production rights, and produced a further 46 conversions under the name Temco D-16. In September 1954, the design was upgraded to include 170hp Lycoming O-340 engines plus increased fuel capacity in wingtip tanks, officially named Temco D-16A but typically marketed as the Riley 55 for the 1955 model year.
In 1957, after 45 conversions to D-16A specification, production ceased in the face of competition from more cost-effective new-build types such as the Piper PA-23 Apache. Many of the D-16 models were upgraded to D-16A standards. In 2012, about 52 Temco D-16 and D-16A models remain on the US civil aircraft register, and at least three are preserved in museum collections.
The Twin Navion is surely a rare bird that stirs excitement when spotted by aviation enthusiasts and vintage aircraft historical “Buffs” everywhere…